The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet. Its name honors Roald Amundsen who reached the South Pole in December 1911, and Robert F. Scott who reached the South Pole the following month.
It was constructed in November 1956 to support the International Geophysical Year in 1957, and has been continuously occupied since then. It currently lies within 100 meters (330 ft) of the Geographic South Pole. Because it is located on a glacier, the station drifts towards the pole at the rate of about 10 meters per year. Although the US has continuously maintained an installation at the South Pole since 1957, the central berthing, galley, and communications units have been constructed and relocated several times. Each of the installations containing these central units has been named the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
Snow accumulation is about 60–80 millimeters (water equivalent) per year (3 in/yr). The station stands at an elevation of 2,835 meters (9,301 ft) on the interior of Antarctica's nearly featureless ice sheet, about 2,850 meters (9,350 ft) thick at that location. Recorded temperature has varied between −13.6 °C (7.52 °F) and −82.8 °C (−117 °F). Annual mean is −49 °C (−56 °F); monthly means vary from −28 °C (−18 °F) in December to −60 °C (−76 °F) in July. Average wind is 5.5 m/s (12 mph); peak gust recorded was 27 m/s (60 mph).
The original South Pole station, now referred to as "Old Pole", was constructed by an 18-man United States Navy crew during 1956–1957. The crew landed on site in October 1956 and was the first group to winter-over at the South Pole, during 1957. Since the winter conditions at the South Pole had never been measured, the station was built partially underground in order to protect it from the worst imaginable weather. The low temperature recorded during 1957 was −74 °C (−102 °F). These temperatures, combined with low humidity and low air pressure, are only manageable with proper protection.
As with all structures at the South Pole, the original station caused wind-blown snow to build up in the surrounding area. This snow accumulation resulted in the structure being further buried by about four feet of snow per year. The station, abandoned since 1975, is now deeply buried, and the pressure has caused the mostly wooden roof to cave in. The site is therefore a hazardous area and off limits to all visitors.
On 3 January 1958 Sir Edmund Hillary's New Zealand part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition reached the station over land from Scott Base, followed shortly by Sir Vivian Fuchs' British scientific component.
The station was relocated and rebuilt in 1975 as a geodesic dome 50 meters wide and 16 meters high, with 14×24 m steel archways, modular buildings, fuel bladders, and equipment. Detached buildings within the dome house instruments for monitoring the upper and lower atmosphere and for numerous and complex projects in astronomy and astrophysics. The station also included the skylab, a box-shaped tower slightly taller than the dome and accessible by tunnel. The skylab housed atmospheric sensor equipment and later a music room.
During the 1970–1974 summers, the dome construction workers were housed in Korean War tents, or "jamesways". These tents consist of a wooden frame with a raised platform covered by canvas. A double-doored exit is at each end. Although the tents are heated, the heating power is not sufficient to keep them at room temperature during the winter. After several jamesways burnt down during the 1976–1977 summer, the construction camp was abandoned and later removed.
However, starting in the 1981–1982 summer, extra seasonal personnel have been housed in a group of jamesways known as "summer camp". Initially consisting of only two jamesways, summer camp now has 11 berthing tents housing about 10 people each, two recreational tents and bathroom and gym structures. In addition, a number of science and berthing structures, such as the hypertats and elevated dorm, were added in the 1990s, particularly for astronomy and astrophysics.
During the period in which the dome served as the main station, many changes to US South Pole operation took place. From the 1990s on, astrophysical research conducted at the South Pole took advantage of its favorable atmospheric conditions and began to produce important scientific results. Such experiments include the Python, Viper, and DASI telescopes, as well as the 10 m South Pole Telescope. The AMANDA / IceCube experiment makes use of the two-mile (3 km)-thick ice sheet to detect neutrinos which have passed through the earth. An observatory building, the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory (MAPO), was dedicated in 1995. The importance of these projects changed the priorities in station operation, increasing the status of scientific cargo and personnel.
The 1998–1999 summer season was the last year that the US Navy operated the five to six LC-130 Hercules service fleet. Beginning in 1999–2000, the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing took responsibility for the daily cargo and passenger ("PAX") flights between McMurdo Station and the South Pole during the summer.
Design of the building started in 1992 by Ferraro Choi & Associates. Structural engineering was performed by BBFM Engineers. Their design was of an 80,000 ft² (7,400 m²), 2-story building that cost $150 million.
Construction of a new station, adjacent to the Dome, began in 1999. Features of the new station included a modular design, to accommodate an increasing station population, and an adjustable elevation, in order to prevent the station from being buried in snow. The building faces into the wind with a sloping lower portion of wall. This angled wall increases the speed of the wind as it passes underneath, causing the snow to be scoured away and keeping the building from being quickly buried. Wind tunnel tests show that scouring will continue to occur until the snow level reaches the second floor.
In a location where about 20 cm (8 inches) of snow accumulates every year without ever thawing, the building's rounded corners and edges help reduce snow drifts. Because snow gradually settles over time under its own weight, the foundations of the building were designed to accommodate substantial differential settlements over any one wing, any one line, or any one column. If differential settlement continues, the supported structure will need to be jacked and then leveled.
The facility was designed to be jacked up an entire story, so the primary building columns are outboard of the walls. During jacking, a new height of column will be added over the existing columns, and jacks will pull the building up to the higher elevation.
89 59'51.19" S, 139 16'22.41" E
The station has a runway for aircraft , 3658 m / 12000 ft long. Between October and February, there are several flights per day of ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft from McMurdo to supply the station. Resupply missions are collectively termed Operation Deep Freeze.
Dimensional cargo capacity of the Hercules aircraft must be considered for all of the station's logistical support. Large scientific experiments and structures such as the new station are broken down into modular pieces and reassembled on-site. Limitations of the Hercules aircraft have been cited by the National Science Foundation as one of the main reasons for the McMurdo-South Pole highway of an over-ice ground supply route.
During the summer the station population is typically over 200. Most personnel leave by the middle of February, leaving several dozen (86 in 2005) "winter-overs", mostly support staff plus a few scientists, who keep the station functional through the months of Antarctic night. The winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October. Wintering-over offers notorious dangers and stresses, as the station population is almost totally isolated. The station is completely self-sufficient during the winter, and powered by three generators running on JP-8 jet fuel.
Research at the station includes glaciology, geophysics, meteorology, upper atmosphere physics, astronomy, astrophysics, and biomedical studies. Most of the scientists work in low-frequency astronomy; the low temperature and low moisture content of the polar air, combined with the altitude of over 2743 m (9,000 ft), causes the air to be far more transparent on some frequencies than is typical elsewhere, and the months of darkness permit sensitive equipment to run constantly.
There is a small green house at the station. The variety of vegetables and herbs in the greenhouse, which range from fresh eggplant to jalapeños, are all produced hydroponically, using only water and nutrients and no soil. The greenhouse is the only source of fresh fruit and vegetables during the winter.
In 1999, the winter-over physician, Dr. Jerri Nielsen, discovered she had breast cancer. She had to rely on self-administered chemotherapy using supplies from a daring July cargo drop, then was picked up in an equally dangerous mid-October landing.
A Flat Stanley figure was scanned and emailed to researcher Cynthia Chiang at the station; Chiang printed out the image of the flat character and photographed it at the South Pole for a grade school class in Maryland.
In January 2007 the station was eventually visited by a group of high Russian officials, including (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) chiefs Nikolay Patrushev and Vladimir Pronichev. The expedition, led by polar explorer Arthur Chilingarov, started from Chile on two Mi-8 helicopters and landed on South Pole.
On the November 9th, 2007 edition of NBC's Today (NBC program), Today Show co-anchor Ann Curry made a satellite telephone call which was broadcast live from the South Pole. In 1999, CBS News correspondent Jerry Bowen reported on camera in a talkback with anchors from the Saturday edition of "CBS This Morning".
On Christmas 2007, two employees at the base got into a drunken fight and had to be evacuated.
In the Stargate SG-1 episode Frozen, SGC scientists stationed in the South Pole dome discover a frozen woman and SG-1 goes to investigate. In certain external shots, the new, elevated station can be seen under construction in the background.
In the fourth season episode of House MD entitled "Frozen", Gregory House is tasked to help a female patient by videoconference who was located at 'an Antarctic outpost'; this was likely modeled on the Jerri Neilsen incident mentioned above.
The South Pole sees the sun rise and set only once a year, technically on the Autumnal equinox on September 21 and the Vernal equinox in March, respectively, but atmospheric refraction means that the sun is above the horizon for some four days longer at each equinox. The station uses New Zealand time (UTC+12, UTC+13 during daylight saving time) since all flights to McMurdo station depart from Christchurch and therefore all official travel from the pole goes through New Zealand.